General Election

Andrew Rawnsley opines in the Guardian that there will be a stalemate next May as the parties prepare for a ‘hung, drawn and quartered Parliament’.

We need to talk about Nigel. No, not that Nigel. We’ve had more than enough of him for the moment. The Nigel we need to talk about is Nigel Dodds. Mark the name. For within a few months, he is the Nigel who could be an absolutely pivotal player in the politics of our country. It is not impossible that he could even get to choose who becomes our next prime minister.

Which would be quite a feat when no one in England, Scotland or Wales will have voted for him. It would be a fair guess that no more than one in 100 of voters outside Northern Ireland even have a clue who he is. If you are struggling to identify him, you are in good company. A few nights ago, I mentioned his name to an important member of the cabinet. The minister responded with a blank expression. Some silent seconds passed as he rummaged around his memory bank. Finally, he replied: “Oh, yes. Him.”

Nigel Dodds is the leader of the Democratic Unionist party at Westminster and number two in his party as a whole. He’s tipped to succeed to the overall leadership of the DUP when Peter Robinson stands down.

I mean no disrespect to him and his fellow politicians in Northern Ireland – this is simply an observation of how things are – when I say that they rarely intrude into the consciousness of the rest of the United Kingdom. In so much as they attract attention from the national media, it is only when a Northern Irish row becomes so serious that it prompts an intervention by the prime minister. Even then, interest is limited, not least because the rows in Northern Ireland tend to be about flags, marching and other things that baffle the rest of the country. Very soon, that may have to change. We could all suddenly have to start paying them a lot of attention.

The Independent claims a poll in which voters believe UKIP is to the political left of the Tories.

Voters see Ukip as more left wing than the Conservative Party in a shock poll finding that will fuel concerns among Ed Miliband’s allies that Nigel Farage is “parking his tanks on Labour’s lawn”.

A poll for The Independent on Sunday exposes what Labour strategists have been fearing for months – that voters do not regard Ukip as a party of the far right, but as one closer to the centre ground than the Tories. As such it could win Labour votes in the North. It suggests that attempts by Labour to portray Mr Farage’s party as “more Thatcherite than Thatcher” have fallen flat.

The findings by ComRes will also be unsettling for the Conservatives, who must seize support from the centre-ground to win a majority at the next general election.

And the Guardian reports that the Tories are accused of ‘trying to buy election’ with 23% hike to campaign spending

David Cameron has been accused of an unjustifiable bid to “buy the general election” as it emerged that ministers have quietly slipped through an unprecedented hike in the amount that parties can spend during the campaign.

Before this week’s official start to the runup to the 2015 general election, the Observer can reveal that the Conservatives have ignored Electoral Commission recommendations and secured a 23% increase in spending. With the Tories having amassed a £78m war chest over the past four years, they can now funnel huge amounts of cash into key seats.

The change to the law on candidates’ election spending, passed without parliamentary debate, was made despite a direct warning by the commission against such “excessive spending to prevent the perception of undue influence over the outcome of the election”.

Lucy Powell MP, Ed Miliband’s key general election strategist, admitted that Labour “can’t match the depths of Tory pockets” and accused the prime minister of seeking to “buy an election they don’t deserve to win”.

Question Time

Breitbart’s Alex Wickham comments on the Nigel Farage/Russell Brand discussion

At first, they liked him. The audience of last night’s Question Time actually liked Russell Brand, the millionaire Marxist comedian turned far left foghorn.

Shifting in his seat, fidgeting, fiddling with his beard or scratching his chest through his open shirt, Brand could have been buoyed by his initial reception. Wild cheers came his way as he trotted out prepared attack lines against cliched leftist bogeymen: the City, the rich (except him), Nigel Farage.

Instead, it went the opposite way. Brand left the studio having lost much of the audience, sunken into his chair, almost reclusive compared to his usually extrovert eccentricities.

What happened? Put simply, Russell Brand was frit. Worse than that, he looked terrified. After Brand strayed from his notes – which at times he clung onto for dear life – and accused Farage of attacking the disabled, the microphone came to a gentleman in the audience wielding a walking stick.

He demolished Brand’s ill-judged smear and called his bluff: if he is the saviour of the masses, why doesn’t he have the nerve to stand for parliament? Brand stuttered. This was the question he feared most.

“Because I’m afraid I would become one of them,” he whispered, barely convincing himself. Howls of derision from the room. They all knew the truth, audience, panel and Brand together.

Iraq

Several of the papers report on the prospect of UK troops being sent back into Iraq to halt Isis.

The Sunday Times says the soldiers will provide protection for training teams in the area.

HUNDREDS of British soldiers are set to return to Iraq in the new year to prepare Iraqi and Kurdish troops for a spring offensive against Isis.

Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, yesterday confirmed that the force will be deployed to four separate sites in the country next month to train Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers.

Two companies from the 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment have been placed on standby to fly to Iraq to provide “force protection” for the training teams, defence sources said.

Troops from the Royal Armoured Corps are likely to accompany them to operate a fleet of mine-proof Foxhound, Ridgeback and Mastiff armoured vehicles, which would be used to transport the trainers and force protection troops between training sites.

The Guardian has a similar story.

 

Britain to send hundreds more troops to Iraq, says defence secretary

Hundreds more British troops are being sent to Iraq next month to bolster the fight against Islamic State (Isis) militants, compounding fears of “mission creep.”

The defence secretary, Michael Fallon announced an additional deployment of British combat-ready troops numbering “in the low hundreds” to help train local forces battling Isis forces, who control vast swathes of northern Syria and neighbouring Iraq.

Fallon said details of the contribution to an international mission were still being finalised but would likely include a small contingent of combat-ready British soldiers at four US-led “safe” centres, one in Kurdistan and three near the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

The move represents a significant increase of the 50-strong British force currently helping Iraqi and Kurdish fighters prepare to retake territory seized by the jihadist movement over the past year.

As does the Independent

The Government last night confirmed that hundreds of British troops will be sent to Iraq in the new year to help train Kurdish and Iraqi forces to fight Islamic State (Isis). Defence Secretary Michael Fallon announced the number of soldiers involved would be in “the very low hundreds”. They will join about 50 British troops already inside Iraq and training local forces.

Four training teams will operate out of four US-led safe centres, one in Kurdish territory and the other three nearer to Baghdad. It was reported they are expected to be accompanied by a small protection contingent of combat-ready British soldiers who will ensure their safety.

 

And Sky News claims the troops will be sent out within weeks.

Hundreds of British soldiers are to be sent to Iraq to help the fight against Islamic State, Sky News understands.

They will make up a training mission to assist the Iraqi Army and Kurdish Peshmerga.

The soldiers – expected to number a few hundred – will go to the region “within weeks” senior military sources have said.

The National Security Council is expected to rubber-stamp the mission when it meets on Tuesday.

Although small groups of British troops have conducted similar missions over the past few months, this will be much greater in size and on a more permanent basis.

A team of military advisors recently went to the country to scope out options.

It’s believed the mission will be largely split between the capital Baghdad and Irbil in the Kurdish controlled north.

It hasn’t been confirmed which regiments the troops will be drawn from.

 

Air travel

Following the chaos at Britain’s airports after a computer failure, the Telegraph suggests passengers may not be able to claim compensation for the delays.

Passengers stranded by an air traffic control meltdown have been warned they could face an anxious wait to discover whether they are entitled to compensation.

Airlines can refuse to pay out for ruined holidays if they can demonstrate that delays or cancellations were due to “extraordinary circumstances”, and it is unclear whether the computer glitch that shut the skies over southern England falls into that category.

Compensation for passengers affected by delays or cancellations is determined by the Denied Boarding Regulations, but Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, said payouts were not a certainty.

He said: “If an airline is able to demonstrate the cancellation or delay was due to extraordinary circumstances then they don’t have to pay out.

“Passengers may however still be entitled to refreshments, free phone calls and overnight accommodation depending on how long the delay is, how far you are flying and whether the flight is to or from an EU or non-EU airport or on an EU or non-EU carrier.”

Isis

The Mail reports on a guidebook published by IS/Islamic State/ISIS telling its members how to buy, sell and abuse captured women.

Islamic State (IS) has published a shocking guidebook for its fighters on how to rape slave girls – even if they have not reached puberty.

The Arabic manual, titled Questions And Answers On Taking Captives And Slaves, instructs IS fighters on how to buy and sell women and girls who have been captured in war as booty.

The document, published by the Research and Fatwa Department of IS, gives its fighters the green light to turn captured women into slaves and concubines, and even give them as gifts to one another.+2

It was circulated on the Twitter accounts of senior IS leaders and on Friday was distributed by masked IS fighters outside a large mosque in Iraq’s second city Mosul, which is controlled by the group.

The document has been obtained by the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute and translated into English.

British terrorism experts, who have studied the document, have concluded it is genuine.

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